The International Writers Magazine: Same Sex Marriages
Fundamental Issue of Same-Sex Marriage
M. C. Wood
a New New York Times/CBS News poll, Americans favor a constitutional
ban on same-sex marriage. And, according to a New York Times article,
(Strong Support Found for Ban on Gay Marriage, December
21, 2003) 53 percent of Americans view marriage primarily as a religious
In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush vowed to
pursue a constitutional amendment asserting marriage as a relation
between a man and a woman should state courts arbitrarily
decide to extend the concept of marriage to include same-sex couples.
dilemma, then, for the same-sex marriage debate, is one of conflict
between church and state. Its a conflict most Americans arent
willing to face head-on, but this issue forces us to realize how much
America relies on religious belief as a basis for civil law.
Much of the debate over same-sex marriage centers around the question
of whether or not the issue is one of same-sex couples receiving the
full rights and benefits of citizenship, or is an affront to the sanctity
of marriage. Activists for gay marriage argue that their relationships
are not fully protected without legal recognition. But they also want
the recognition that comes with the socially legitimating power of marriage.
For those who agree with legal protection and rights, but oppose granting
gay couples legal marriage, there is the compromise of civil unions.
They find the idea of gay marriage religiously offensive, and so arent
willing to have it legalized. Ultimately, this is the crux of the inconsistency
on the part of the anti-gay-marriage group: they cannot divest legal
marriage from its religious roots.
This heel-digging reveals something were rarely willing to admit,
namely that many of our laws, such as those regarding marriage, are
grounded in religion. The fact that most Americans take marriage as
a natural part of lifes course such that any change to it is met
with screams of horror. also reveals how utterly embedded the religious
practice is in our culture so embedded, in fact, that the religious
practice has been codified in civil law. The Massachusetts Supreme Court
recognizes that, legally at least, there is a separation between religion
and law such that the law, though based on religious practice, is not
subject to that practice for its application.
Even venerable columnists such as William Safire (New York Times Op-Ed
December 1, 2003) acknowledge that Americans cant quite fathom
same-sex marriage because they cant fathom same-sex sex. Such
an inability betrays ingrained ideas about marriage as a fundamentally
religious institution. Instead of arguing about whether or not there
should be a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, there should be
a debate on whether or not Americans civil rights ought to be
circumscribed by religious belief. We spend so much time decrying theocratic
rule in other countries, but what else is the outcry over granting rights
and protections to every American regardless of race, gender, disability,
or sexual orientation?
Thats the most fundamental problem. Related to it is another enormous
problem, namely our unreflective attitudes about marriage, which apply
not only to same-sex marriage, but to unmarried heterosexual couples.
These make our collective response to developments in the concept something
akin to Chicken Little saying that the sky was falling. Even if the
anti-gay-marriage group is right to decry same-sex marriage as harmful
to the institution, we may already be on our way toward its end
or at the very least a revaluation of its value in its current form.
After all, there is certainly a correlation between the emancipation
of women within the institution, such as the right to own property and
accuse her husband of rape, and the divorce rates we see today. Nevertheless,
changes in the concept do not necessitate the dissolution of the institution
or society itself.
If nothing else, this debate forces us to think of the foundations of
our ideas, beliefs, and practices. If we dont do that, then we
become a calcified citizenry, and that, to be sure, would prove far
more harmful to American democracy than the thought of same-sex marriage.
© M. C. W. Feb 2004
all rights reserved